theatre is a unique kind of performing art which is close to
puppetry, but differs from it in the sense that while in puppet
theatre the audience directly sees the puppet figures, in shadow
theatre they only see the shadow cast on the screen. There is a
light source and a screen and in between the manipulator inserts
the flat figures by lightly pressing them on the screen so that a
sharp shadow is formed. Usually,
the figures in the shadow theatre are made of leather.
They are carefully stenciled so that their shadows suggest
their clothing, jewellery and other accoutrements.
Some of the figures have jointed limbs which, when
manipulated, give the appearance of beautiful moving shadows.
has a very long and rich tradition of Shadow theatre.
According to many scholars, this art originated in India.
Reference to shadow theatre is found in the Tamil classic Shilappadikaaram.
Many Western Indologists such as Pischel, Luders and
Winternitz are of the opinion that the well-known Sanskrit drama Mahaanaataka
was originally written as a play for the Shadow Theatre. This art
form is, thus, at least one thousand years old. Apparently it went
to Southeast Asia, Turkey and other places from India.
theatre is prevalent in the states of Orissa, Kerala, Maharashtra,
Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka. In the shadow theatre
forms of the first three states, the shadows are black and white
while those from Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka are
multi-coloured. The shadow theatre in Orissa is known as Raavana
Chhaya or shadow of Ravana.
It is rather strange that in this form, while the story is
based on Rama, the theatre itself is named after Ravana. The
shadow theatre in Maharashtra is known as Camdyaachaa
Bahulye, meaning figures made of leather.
It is also known as Chitra
also the themes are largely drawn from the legend of Rama. In
Karnataka there are two styles of shadow theatre, both known as Togalu
gombeatta. One style uses very large size figures ranging from
1-1.5 metres and the other style uses smaller figures ranging from
six inches to two and a half feet.
The figures are made of goatskin, which is first treated to
translucency and then stenciled and coloured. The themes are drawn
from Ramayana, Mahabharata and other Puranic episodes. It came
into Karnataka from its organizer Kattare Kalachari who hailed
from Maharastra. The shadow theatre in Karnataka is also referred
as Killekyathru. There
are several families which perform in their respective areas and
are known by different names such as Gombberama
Chakkai Gobbeyata, Togalu Gobbeyata.
Thol Pava-Kuthu or Pavaikottu,
the shadow theatre of Kerala again thrives exclusively on the
stories of Rama. Andhra Pradesh has the strongest tradition in
shadow theatre, which is known by the name Tholubommalata.
Here, the figures range in height from 1.2 to 1.82 metres and are
the largest among the other shadow theatre forms.
of the leather forms of the shadow theatre are the masterpieces of
folk-art. Usually the deer skin and goat hides are used, as they
could be rendered transparent and easily absorb different colors
and last for centuries. The raw hides are first treated with
solution of common salt or caustic soda and are then dried. They
are then painted with deep colours extracted from locally
available plants and rocks. Different parts of a doll are obtained
from these hides and are joined in such a way that the body,
limbs, head and hands could be moved with ease.
a puppetry performance in a village, a rectangular stage is set up
by using split bamboo and woolen blankets (Kambli). The
performance is commenced with an invocation to Lord Ganesha and Saraswati.
In order to announce that the show is about to commence a pair of
buffoons Silekyatha and his hilarious wife, Bangarakka
makes an appearance on the screen. They attract the audience by
observations, gestures, jokes and comments on village affairs. The
core of the performance is enacted during which detailed and
dramatically prolonged episodes from Ramayana, Mahabharata,
stories from Puranas and the Devi scriptures are presented. The
headman, his wife and children, gives the male, female, and
children voices respectively. The music is provided by rubbing a
reed on the back of a bell-metal dish, a mukha-veena or a
harmonium. The themes depend on the occasions for which the
Puppeteers are invited. They perform "Krishna Leela"
on birthdays, "Girija Kalyana" on wedding days
and "Swargarohana" when a death takes place.